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Uganda: Children, War, and Peace
Sep 30, 2004 (040930)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Optimism about prospects for peace in northern Uganda is growing.
Recent news reports cite increased desertions from the rebel Lord's
Resistance Army and some reduction in the number of displaced
people. Nevertheless, making peace is no simple task. The
population is traumatized by continuing violence, and HIV/AIDS
rates in the conflict areas are almost double the national average.
A new report from World Vision Uganda highlights the continuing
obstacles to peace and the enormous damage done to children and to
society at large from this 18-year war that has received very
little attention from the international community.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the foreword, executive summary,
and key recommendations of the World Vision report, entitled
"Pawns of Politics: Children, Conflict and Peace in Northern
For the full text of the 59-page illustrated World Vision report
see http://www.worldvision.ca/home/media/PawnsOfPolitics.pdf (1M)
Additional links to more reports on the war in northern Uganda:
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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Pawns of Politics: Children, Conflict and Peace in Northern Uganda
Report Authors: Rory E. Anderson, Fortunate Sewankambo, and Kathy
The faces and stories of children in northern Uganda are etched on
our memories. The children and their suffering are unforgettable,
but the armed conflict in which they are caught is almost forgotten
by most of the world. Hopefully this report will help to change
For more than a decade World Vision has worked with the communities
in northern Uganda to help them cope with the impacts of war. At
our Centre for Children of War in Gulu, children who escape from
captivity under the Lord's Resistance Army are helped to return
home and rebuild their lives, through psychosocial counselling,
healthcare, education and vocational training. In the camps for
displaced persons, food, water, and shelter only begin to address
the needs of millions of families forced from their homes.
We can give blankets to night commuters, but we also need to end
the fear that drives them to leave home. The insecurity and costs
of this war for everyone over the years is a price that is too high
to pay. With each visit and each contribution, we ask ourselves
what more we could do to help resolve this conflict and restore
peace in northern Uganda. We are convinced lasting peace is
winnable, but it needs a concerted effort from the local to the
international level. This report is a result of our desire to
contribute to finding the way forward.
It is our hope and prayer that this report will not only be read,
but also acted upon by people of goodwill and people with the power
and responsibility to end this conflict. It is a plea for a united
effort to make a difference for the children and communities in
northern Uganda and for global peace and security.
Robby Muhumuza, National Director, World Vision Uganda
Dean R. Hirsch, President, World Vision International
The armed conflict in northern Uganda has been overlooked and
misunderstood for the past 18 years. It is a tragic struggle for
power involving children, who are used as pawns for military and
political purposes. They are abused; they are manipulated; and by
most, they are pitied, then ignored. In spite of good intentions
and laws against child abuse, these children have no protection for
their security and basic rights.
The misunderstanding has resulted in a tendency to simplify the
conflict to merely "getting the bad guy," while ignoring the
complexities that continue to fuel the conflict. For the past 18
years, war between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the
Government of Uganda (GoU) has continued because of historical
grievances, a legacy of militarised politics, external
interference, and national and international indifference.
Uganda's post-colonial history has been one of violent coups,
numerous armed rebellions, and regional and ethnic divisions. This
has created a militarised political system with a legacy of
accessing state power through violence. The LRA insurgency was
initially a political response to the current government's coup and
ensuing cattle theft by various government soldiers. When the LRA
resorted to the violent abduction of children to serve in its
ranks, political grievance turned into humanitarian crisis.
The nature and duration of the conflict have created tremendous
humanitarian, social, and economic costs for all of Uganda,
particularly for children. The protection of children has not been
a priority for governments, despite national and international laws
guaranteeing their basic rights. As a result, a situation of mass
hostage-taking has occurred, where over 20,000 children have been
violently abducted. Children are the primary targets of the LRA,
shrewdly forced to perpetuate their own misery whether they are
abducted, or live a life of "night commuting" to avoid abduction.
Another tactic sustaining the conflict is the use of spiritual
rituals by the LRA. Spiritual weapons are used to psychologically
enslave both abducted children and the targeted population with
fear. History provides an important context for understanding the
spiritualised politics and the politicised spiritual rituals
underlying the conflict. Because of this history, it is not strange
to also spiritualise military activity. The result is a cultic
manipulation of religion by the LRA in lieu of a political
platform. The religious dimension has become an excuse for lack of
action by authorities with mandates for child protection and
conflict resolution. It would be more effective to recognise the
religious element of this conflict as tactical, and respond by
supporting and encouraging inter-faith peace efforts as part of a
The protracted nature of this conflict has created a humanitarian
crisis that is among the world's worst. Over 1.6 million people are
homeless. Eighty per cent of the northern region's population lives
in displacement camps that are squalid and cramped. For the
displaced, the inadequate response to this crisis has meant a
drastic decline in quality of life indicators. Malnutrition rates
among displaced children range from 7 21 per cent, and anywhere
from 1,052 15,000 people share a single water source. A further
indication of the severity of this crisis is the upswing in
HIV/AIDS prevalence rates. National prevalence rates for Uganda are
estimated at 6.2 per cent and declining, but rates in waraffected
areas are almost double that of the national average, at 11.9 per
The economic costs of the war have been enormous for the entire
country. It is morally and academically challenging to quantify the
value of a human life and the social costs of war, but attempting
to do so paints a picture of the costly damages of this prolonged
conflict. For the analyzed period, the costs of the conflict in
northern Uganda can conservatively be quantified at over US$1.3
billion, and costing more than US$100 million per year. This is
more than Uganda's total national budget for health care. Paying
for the conflict comes at the expense of other important national
programs; therefore, the LRA conflict directly impacts the
immediate well-being of all Ugandans.
Initially a Ugandan civil war, the LRA conflict spilled over the
border and became linked to the civil war in southern Sudan. As
part of the fight against terrorism, the Government of Sudan (GoS)
opened select parts of southern Sudan for Uganda to fight a
military offensive against the LRA. Intended as a resolution to the
conflict, striking at the LRA as terrorists has, in fact, worsened
the humanitarian crisis. Because the LRA ranks are estimated to be
80 per cent abducted child soldiers, the terrorists are themselves
hostages. Under attack in Sudan, the LRA resorted to new abductions
in northern Uganda, which exponentially increased displacement and
created a new phenomenon called "night commuters," children who
flee home every night and sleep in public places to avoid
abduction. Relying on a military offensive created more of a
humanitarian crisis. To date, global indifference allows the abuses
to continue; the international dimensions and human suffering,
however, make ending the conflict a responsibility for all of
Ending the war goes beyond capturing Joseph Kony. Full resolution
of the LRA conflict will happen only when all of the following
occur: (1) When Joseph Kony surrenders, is captured, or agrees to
some sort of political settlement; (2) hidden LRA weapons caches
are found; (3) LRA commanders are resettled and reintegrated; and
(4) IDPs are able to safely leave camps and resettle. Although
neutralising Kony is a large part of ending the conflict and the
humanitarian crisis, any senior LRA commander with access to these
weapons could inherit the cause and take his place.
This is a winnable peace. Given all of the challenges, resolution
is possible if a sustained, high-level, multi-pronged approach is
used by a variety of actors. Among these, the Government of Uganda
should give priority to the protection of children and civilians
and undertake the necessary reforms to combat corruption within the
The international community, including key western governments like
the U.S., the E.U. and others, will need to pressure Sudan to put
an end to LRA activities within its borders and galvanize
international institutions to better respond to this crisis. If
national and international actions are coordinated, Kony's veil of
dark spiritism is likely to evaporate, as will the reign of terror
by the LRA.
Summary of Recommendations
- Peace in northern Uganda is attainable. A multidimensional
approach from the local to the international level is recommended.
Considering the human, social and economic costs of this conflict,
investment in a concerted peace initiative would benefit all of
Uganda, Africa and international security.
- The spiritual aspects of this conflict need to be addressed as
part of a comprehensive response; they can neither be ignored nor
used as an excuse for inaction by authorities with responsibility
for protecting civilians. Non-military conflict resolution
strategies should include someone with sensitivity to the spiritual
dimensions of Kony's hold on people and an ability to appeal to
spiritual alternatives to overcome fear and manipulation of
- Protection of civilians, with a special focus on children, should
be a top priority for national and international action.
- Appropriate HIV/AIDS control activities should be added to all
interventions undertaken by government, NGOs and UN agencies,
tailored for the different aspects of the conflict: e.g., emergency
response, IDPs, abducted children, "night commuters," and
Government of Uganda
- The Government of Uganda and its leader President Yoweri Museveni
should actively support and participate in international conflict
resolution and local peace initiatives, in order to put an end to
the cost of this conflict and channel diverted resources into
productive uses for the people and economy of Uganda.
- The Amnesty Act should be extended for a period longer than three
months at a time, for all except Kony, and accompanied with
consistent public information to increase awareness and allow for
- Consistent messages from political leaders about conflict
resolution and the Amnesty Act would help to build community
confidence and convey important signals to persons still in LRA
captivity that they will be accepted if they escape and return
- Public information campaigns about peace and amnesty in northern
Uganda need to be targeted towards young people, to ensure that
anyone who might be abducted by the LRA is well aware of his or her
options and less liable to be swayed by false indoctrination during
captivity. Information should be age-appropriate and in local
languages covering all of the affected areas.
- The Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs, who is
responsible for the Children's Statute, should give urgent
attention to the need for child protection in northern Uganda,
working with UNICEF, the Army, and local community structures to
take the necessary steps to ensure that children at risk are
protected under the existing laws of Uganda.
- The Ugandan government should speedily implement the recently
passed IDP Policy and its provisions with high priority given to
the protection of civilians, including children.
- The Ugandan Army should clarify roles, responsibilities and
accountability of the various local defence units in military
strategies for civilian protection.
- The Government of Uganda needs to conduct a full-scale audit of
the military, and implement measures to combat the serious problems
of corruption, which is debilitating the military.
- Without waiting for the conflict to end, the Government of Uganda
and local community leaders in the North should begin a process of
national reconciliation through constructive dialogue, including
participation by youth and women.
Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)
- Leaders of the LRA should demonstrate a serious commitment to
- clearly outlining achievable political objectives and cooperating
with mediators attempting conflict resolution;
- negotiating and implementing a ceasefire with independent,
international monitoring of all parties;
- ending the practice of abduction, with the release of all
children and adults still in captivity; and
- agreeing to human rights monitoring of all parties to ensure
everyone complies with international humanitarian laws.
- For the medium term, the LRA and its supporters should direct
their energy into non-violent political dialogue and organisations
to address root causes of the conflict and work toward the
development of political structures in Uganda that respect
diversity, treat all peoples equitably, and foster development in
- The LRA should use its spiritual influence to spread a message of
peace rather than revenge and punishment, in keeping with the core
teachings of the various religions to which the LRA has appealed
for legitimacy in the past.
Government of Sudan
- Consistent actions in support of peace are imperative from the
Government of Sudan, including active measures to end all LRA
activities within its borders.
- UNICEF should increase its presence and engagement in northern
Uganda, with a focus on child protection issues.
- The ICRC should focus more attention on its unique mandate for
child protection under the provisions of the Geneva Convention,
including protection of the rights of children taken hostage by the
LRA across international borders.
- The UN Security Council should take specific, progressive
measures to ensure implementation of Resolution 1539 in northern
Uganda and Sudan, including increased monitoring with consequences
for failure to comply with its provisions for the security of
- The UN Secretary General should appoint a Special Envoy to
co-ordinate all UN efforts in the direction of peace, with a
particular focus on protection of civilians and accountability for
compliance with international law. This would include independent
human rights monitors to deter abuses by all parties and engagement
with all parties on compliance with international laws. The
- Consistent, coordinated, high-level diplomacy is needed by all
international actors, including the withdrawal of military support
that enables the conflict to continue. Doing this will force
combatants to engage in serious efforts to resolve the conflict.
- The new African Union Peace and Security Council should give high
priority to the situation in northern Uganda and provide African
leadership within international efforts for non-violent conflict
- Local efforts like the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative
(ARLPI) and others should be supported, as part of a larger peace
initiative involving the Government of Uganda, the LRA, and the
Government of Sudan.
- Increased humanitarian assistance should be provided by
international donor agencies to meet the requirements outlined in
the 2004 UN Consolidated Appeal for northern Uganda, with
particular attention to prevent predicted food shortages, to reduce
malnutrition, to support education for IDP children, and to include
protection and peace-building components in a more co-ordinated
strategy for northern Uganda.
- International security agencies should recognise that this is
international hostage taking, and therefore apply all tools
available for freeing hostages.
- Interfaith efforts like the ARLPI, which has bridged the divide
among religious groups for the sake of peace, should be welcomed as
legitimate peacebuilding interventions. Specific faith-based
initiatives, including prayer, discussion and dialogue about the
religious elements of the conflict, are effective tools to break
the hold of fear and spiritual oppression on people.
- Because of the social and religious make-up of Uganda, Christian
churches have a special role in peacebuilding through prayers for
peace, positive leadership, and advocacy, in order to offset those
who use violence in the name of religion.
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